Alamance County senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr. has issued a new order outlining changes to Alamance County court operations.
Lambeth issued his latest order last Thursday (Jan. 14), after newly-sworn in North Carolina chief justice Paul Newby announced he would allow an earlier order, which suspended most court proceedings for 30 days, to expire. Then-chief justice Cheri Beasley had suspended most court proceedings in mid-December, citing an ongoing, statewide increase in COVID-19 cases.
Members of the public and courthouse staff will continue to be required to complete COVID-19 screenings, wear face coverings, and observe six-foot social distancing guidelines, based on the latest order that Lambeth issued last Thursday.
However, many aspects of the county court system will resume operating normally, although parties to pending cases are encouraged to conduct virtual hearings (through the WebEx teleconferencing system) and conduct other court business via phone, mail, and email, when possible, based on Lambeth’s latest order.
The Alamance County clerk of court’s office will resume normal business hours, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. weekdays. The clerk’s office had been operating on a modified schedule since mid-December, when then- North Carolina chief justice Cheri Beasley halted most court proceedings 30 days, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
However, only courthouse staff will be permitted to enter the clerk’s office, and appointments will be required to enter the Special Proceedings and Estates divisions at the Historic Court House, based on the order that Lambeth issued last Thursday. Hearings for special proceedings and estates matters will be conducted via teleconferences to the extent possible.
Other changes to Alamance County’s court operations include:
Small claims matters
· A 10-minute lapse between hearings in all small claims cases;
· Multiple small claims cases involving a single plaintiff and/or the same party may be grouped together;
· Only those individuals who are a party to a small claims proceeding be allowed to attend hearings;
· Continuances for small claims proceedings will be granted when necessary to avoid heavy dockets that would not permit adherence to COVID-19 precautions.
Civil district court
· Domestic violence protective (50-B complaints) and civil no-contact (50-C complaints) motions and requests will be heard daily;
· Ex parte orders will be calendared and heard on Mondays;
· Domestic violence protective orders with no ex parte order; motions to show cause; motions to modify or set aside; and motions for return of weapons will be scheduled for a Monday hearing date.
· Hearings will be conducted via teleconferencing for secure custody cases (those involving juveniles being held at a detention center or jail);
· First appearance hearings for juveniles who are not in custody will be conducted in person or via teleconferencing at 9:00 a.m. daily;
· Hearings in juvenile abuse neglect and dependency cases will be conducted via teleconferencing on a weekly basis except for “first seven-day hearings,” which will be conducted in person; these arrangements will be reevaluated monthly;
Child support cases
· For cases involving establishment dates, 25 cases will be scheduled in one-hour intervals, from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m.;
· For cases involving enforcement dates, 25 cases will be scheduled in one-hour intervals, from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m.;
· Child support agents are encouraged to negotiate and resolve as many cases as possible prior to court.
Criminal district court
· Jury trials will resume starting January 25, subject to potential cancellation if deemed necessary by Lambeth, based on current COVID-19 case rates, in consultation with the Alamance County Health Department;
· Non-jury matters will be scheduled by the district attorney, in a manner that adheres to COVID-19 guidelines;
· The next grand jury will convene on February 2;
· Court sessions will begin at 9:00 a.m. and all attorneys have assigned time slots during which their clients’ cases will be heard;
· Cases involving defendants who are representing themselves (pro se defendants) will be scheduled for 9:00 a.m. daily;
· Cases listed on the docket for Courtroom A will be heard in Courtroom A; and Courtroom B will serve as an overflow area for Courtroom A;
· Cases listed on the docket for Courtroom B will be heard in the Alamance County Historic Court House;
· If the courtroom at the Historic Court House is being used for superior court trials, cases that appear on the docket for Courtroom B will be heard in Courtroom C;
· First appearances will be held at 2:00 p.m. daily in Courtroom A;
· There will be no traditional docket calls.
Civil superior court
· Jury trials will resume starting February 1, subject to potential cancellation if deemed necessary by the senior resident superior court judge and based on current COVID-19 case rates, in consultation with the local health department.
· Non-jury matters will be scheduled by the presiding judge, based on notices of hearings submitted as of 5:00 Wednesday the week before each session.
· Hearings via teleconferences (virtual hearings) will be encouraged and permitted within the discretion of the presiding judge.
· All notices of hearings shall include an estimate of the time needed for each motion on which a hearing is requested.
· Calendar requests must indicate whether a party is requesting a virtual hearing or an in-person hearing; the court coordinator will schedule the hearing and notify attorneys and litigants electronically, and will provide a link (“WebEx invitation”) to the participants; parties who object to a virtual hearing must file a written objection with the trial court coordinator and the opposing party.
Law enforcement officers will not be present in the courtroom but will be available, via email or phone, for assigned court dates and should be available to appear at a trial. Interpreters must be requested in advance to appear either in-person or remotely to assist non-English speaking parties.
The magistrates’ office inside the Alamance County jail will continue operating normally, 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Weddings will continue to be conducted at the magistrates’ office; individuals who wish to have a magistrate perform a marriage ceremony are encouraged to contact the magistrates’ office for additional information.
No changes in procedures for press seeking to cover hearings
Lambeth’s order makes no changes to the procedures that members of the press will need to follow, as outlined in a separate order that he and Alamance County chief district court judge Brad Allen, Sr. issued last month. Members of the press seeking to attend a court hearing must submit a written request, via email, to the county’s superior court trial coordinator or district court trial coordinator (depending on where the case is to be heard) no later than 2:00 p.m. of the business day prior to the date on which the case is scheduled.
Written requests for press access to court proceedings must include: the name of the case; file number; court date; courthouse location and courtroom; and a statement that access is being requested as a member of a media outlet, according to the order that Lambeth and Allen issued December 18, 2020.